Investigators search debris at the site of a deadly fertilizer plant fire… (LM Otero, Pool photo )
HOUSTON — A paramedic who responded to the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, last month was arrested Friday after federal investigators said they discovered he had the makings of a pipe bomb.
It was not clear whether the arrest was connected to the April 17 explosion, which killed 14 people and injured more than 160 others in the small McLennan County town about 70 miles south of Dallas. The explosion had been investigated as an industrial accident, but officials said Friday they had started a criminal investigation.
FOR THE RECORD:
Arrest in Texas: An article in the May 11 LATExtra section about the arrest in West, Texas, of paramedic Bryce Reed on a pipe-bomb charge said that he was taken into custody Friday. Reed was arrested late Thursday.
The paramedic, Bryce Reed, appeared via videoconference in federal court in the county seat of Waco on Friday to face a federal charge of unlawfully possessing an unregistered destructive device, according to a statement by U.S. Atty. Robert Pitman and Robert Champion, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Reed, 31, did not enter a plea and was appointed a Waco-based lawyer, Jonathan Sibley, who did not return calls seeking comment.
Reed was highly visible after the explosion. In an interview with The Times, he talked about having to notify the family about the death of a close friend and fellow first-responder, later identified as Cyrus Reed, 29, of Abbott, a volunteer firefighter he eulogized during a memorial service at Baylor University on April 25. He called Reed his brother and praised his service, saying he "lived a life which reflected all the virtues which I hope to one day master."
According to a criminal complaint by the ATF, charges were filed against Reed after the McLennan County Sheriff's Office bomb squad was dispatched Tuesday to a residence about seven miles north of West in Abbott, where investigators discovered "an assortment of bomb-making components."
Investigators determined that the resident, who was not identified in the complaint, "had unwittingly taken possession of the components from Reed" on April 26, nine days after the massive explosion that tore through the West Fertilizer Co. plant in the town of about 2,800.
The complaint detailed the materials, including a 3.5-inch length of galvanized metal pipe with two galvanized end caps attached, one of which had a 1/8 -inch hole drilled in it. There were also canisters containing hobby fuse, a lighter, a digital scale, a plastic spoon and six coils of metal ribbon.
There were also several pounds of chemical powders in individual bags, including potassium nitrate, potassium perchlorate, aluminum powder, red iron oxide, ammonium perchlorate, sulfur powder, air float charcoal and Eckart 10890 German dark aluminum. An ATF chemist and explosives expert confirmed the material could be used to make a bomb.
Reed "admitted to possessing the components of the pipe bomb," the complaint said. He was arrested by ATF agents late Thursday in West.
If convicted, Reed could face up to a decade in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
West Mayor Tommy Muska was skeptical that someone might have intentionally triggered the blast.
"I find it hard to believe," Muska said, "but I don't know who this guy is or where he lives."
The state fire marshal's investigation is expected to last another one to two weeks and has yet to determine what caused the fire and explosion. Rachel Moreno, an agency spokeswoman, said, "Reed's arrest is unrelated to the fertilizer plant fire and explosion."
McLennan County Sheriff's Office officials on Friday asked the Texas Rangers to assist them in investigating the explosion and "any possible criminal acts," noting that "No evidence has been uncovered to indicate any connection to the events surrounding the fire and subsequent explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant and the arrest of Bryce Reed."
Federal investigators declined to discuss possible links between Reed and the explosion.
Reed has been licensed by the state as an EMT/paramedic since at least 2005. He was licensed through August, and was employed by West Emergency Medical Services with no record of disciplinary action, said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. She said Reed was removed from the West EMS roster Friday after the agency notified the service that Reed was no longer volunteering. The state has opened a standard regulatory investigation into Reed based on his arrest, Williams said.
He had been working as a paramedic at Children's Medical Center in Dallas since Jan. 7 but took leave April 3, according to hospital spokeswoman Kay Jackson.